Phantom Thread seems very timely in the current climate, it tells the story of a male artist, a couture designer, who controls every aspect of his daily routine with the support of his strong silent type sister in the convenient belief that it supports him being very good at what he does. Artists can be sensitive and emotionally volatile but they’re only allowed to indulge this if they are successful. Into his life comes the latest muse/victim/lover in the form of a young French woman who was working as a waitress. There is not one person in this movie that mainstream audiences will identify as behaving normally or in a way that is healthy for relationships. That is one of the film’s delights, the other is if you think the story is going to play out one way or another-the movie has other ideas.
This is a character piece where a lot of little things add up to a lot over a slowly building story. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis in what he has announced will be his final film performance is great, playing Reynolds Woodcock, a dismissive petulant man who parcels small amounts of praise but also lets great vulnerability seep through. You may ask yourself about a scene where he discusses making a wedding dress for his mother, this is part of seduction ritual that he has done over and over again quite possibly but that does make it any less real what he is relaying? His sister Cyril Woodcock played by Lesley Manville if not the whole power behind the throne is certainly maintaining the engine of this great fashion house with several staff and customers involved. Then there is Vicky Krieps as Alma Elson, whose past we don’t learn a great deal about because it doesn’t seem to interest Reynolds and because who she was is not nearly as interesting as what she is going to become. As great as Day-Lewis is and its true we may take him for granted, this is a film where Manville and Krieps shine, often poker-faced, they communicate a lot with very little.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a first-rate filmmaker, he and his team have made a gorgeous visually stimulating film which gets the period details right of 1950s England perfect. The music by Jonny Greenwood featured in the trailer is a perfect companion to the images. The gowns (by longtime costume designer Mark Bridges) are simply breathtaking, Woodcock’s world is cold and clinical but it is beautiful. You can see the attraction of it. It is a film about relationships with several things that hit the right note at this time of cultural discussion but mostly it is just one film about one couple and how they get along. There is something very comforting in the way that the film ends things between this couple. After watching them throughout most of the film do things you wouldn’t expect anybody to do you may find something familiar in how it ends. This is a crackerjack way to end the collaboration between Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson.